HORN ISLAND, MS (WLOX) - HORN ISLAND, MS (WLOX) – Officials and scientists from the state of Mississippi and BP weren't the only ones on Horn Island Wednesday. An investigative team from Greenpeace also walked the beaches to see how the barrier island is faring in the wake of the Gulf oil disaster. And they have a very different assessment of how the cleanup is progressing.
Science Coordinator Adam Walters and Senior Oceans Campaigner Phil Kline dug small holes in the sand and discovered layers of oiled sand less than a foot below the surface. They also found tar balls at various stages of weathering and various sizes on both the leeward and windward sides of the islands.
"BP keeps telling us that the oil has been cleaned up," Kline said. "This is outrageous. Horn Island is a habitat for birds and turtles, and BP will not be able to attempt a cleanup without risking irreparable damage to those habitats. The oil and dispersants, plus new invasive clean up methods using bulldozers will put this sensitive ecosystem over the edge."
Those "invasive clean up methods" were painted in a much different light by BP's Chief Operating Officer Mike Utsler.
"We've been able to modify that technology into its use in helping us fight this challenge of picking up these small tar balls that you've had an opportunity to see in a few places," Utsler told WLOX News.
Dr. Bill Walker, the director of the Department of Marine Resources, was impressed with the island's recovery thus far.
"I would say, if nothing else is done, the island would recover," Walker said. "What you're seeing out here is weathered oil that's going to continue to weather and go away like the typical tar balls that wash up here all the time."
Greenpeace Science Coordinator Adam Walters disagrees with that optimistic assessment.
"Much of the oil from this disaster will never be cleaned up," Walters said. "What we see on the Gulf coast beaches is what made it to shore. Vast amounts of the oil released into the Gulf will never reach the coast and will never be cleaned up. Instead, mixed, dissolved and dispersed into the water this oil it causing as yet unquantified and potentially highly significant effects on the Gulf's aquatic ecosystem."
The investigative work at Horn Island is part of a three month long Gulf impacts expedition. The Arctic Sunrise is acting as a platform for independent scientists to study the impact of the oil and dispersants on various Gulf ecosystems. Scientists during the month of August studied blue crab larvae, marine mammals and sponges.
In September, two scientists will be on board, representing the Littoral Acoustic Demonstration Center. The scientists, using already existing baseline data, will assess the impact of the oil spill sperm whale populations using acoustic buoys. Additional scientists will join the expedition in September and October.
The Arctic Sunrise is a 50 meter long icebreaker purchased by Greenpeace in 1995. Since then, it has peacefully protested whaling in the Southern Ocean and documented the impacts of climate change at the poles.